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Council approves measures aimed at school and community safety in Kingston

During its regular meeting on Tuesday night, Jul. 12, 2022, Kingston City Council voted to adopt a number of measures as part of its effort to curb vehicular traffic and speed near area schools. The move will see reduced speed limits in several neighbourhoods, as well as the implementation of Community Safety Zones (CSZs) outside all neighbourhood schools.

In a report to Council, City staff recommended that a number of regulations be implemented through a pilot program, which will see traffic changes adopted in two area neighbourhoods — Westwoods and Strathcona Park — in time for the 2022-2023 school year. The plan is to adopt similar changes at all area schools in time for September 2023. 

As per Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act (HTA), municipalities throughout the province have the ability to designate certain roadways as CSZs, in which fines for traffic infractions can be increased, providing an added deterrent to drivers. While the City currently has signage to identify all school zones, the signs are not regulatory in nature. CSZs, meanwhile, “provide an important additional regulatory tool for police enforcement of speed limits and motorist behaviour in school areas.”

The Community Safety Zones will be marked by two signs, confirming where the area begins and ends, and reminding drivers that they are subject to increased fines within the CSZ. 

A rendering of the Community Safety Zone signs that warn drivers they are entering and exiting a zone. Image via City of Kingston.

While the Safety Zones act as an additional tool for police, allowing officers to hand out additional fines when drivers are caught speeding or committing other traffic violations, the CSZs do not change any of the rules of the road.

Currently, in Ontario, the speed limit within urban and rural roadways is 50 km/h and 80 km/h respectively, unless otherwise posted. The Safer School Zones Act, 2017 allows municipalities to establish speed limits that are lower than the 50 km/h default inside a specific area. Within Kingston, the 50 km/h limit applies to most roadways, with speeds currently reduced to 40 km/h near local schools. The staff report recommended the City implement neighbourhood-wide speed limits of 40 km/h and further reductions to 30 km/h within the designated school area.

The recommendations came from suggestions made by the CIty’s School Pedestrian Safety Working Group, which called for a number of improvements to school safety following the tragic death of a student outside Mother Teresa Catholic School back in January. At its meeting on Feb. 16, 2022, Council formed the Working Group to gauge the interests of various stakeholders, including parent councils, school boards, Kingston Police, and City staff.

“The goal is to create a process to address pedestrian safety concerns at schools that incorporate key groups such as school boards, transportation companies and the City of Kingston,” the Working Group’s webpage states. “This process, once developed, could then be implemented at any school in Kingston to address school-specific pedestrian safety issues.”

Throughout the spring, the Working Group conducted a public outreach campaign to better understand the needs and suggestions of members of the public, with a memo presented to City Council back in June.

In terms of the implementation of these measures, the staff report called for a phased approach, with the establishment of a pilot project in two neighbourhoods for the upcoming school year. According to the report, “these neighbourhoods were recommended by School Pedestrian Safety Working Group to be the first areas for pilot implementation and are clearly defined by surrounding main roads, with each area containing a local road with two elementary school frontages (Mother Teresa Catholic School and Lancaster Drive Public School; Lord Strathcona Public School and St. Paul Catholic School).”

Phase One includes the establishment of CSZs outside the schools, as well as further speed reductions within the neighbourhoods. Staff will also set up additional traffic calming measures in the neighbourhoods, such as “pavement messaging and speed display devices on McMahon Avenue and Lancaster Drive.”

Following the 2022-2023 school year, staff will analyze the results of the pilot project, as the City moves ahead with Phase Two, which will see CSZs established at all Kingston-area schools, both elementary and secondary. Phase Two is expected to be implemented ahead of the 2023-2024 school year. The recommendations were approved unanimously with no debate from members of Council. 

School Street and Play Street Program Extension 

On Tuesday night, Council also approved a number of recommendations regarding the continuation of its School Street and Play Street Program. Last August, the City was approached by Kingston Coalition for Active Transportation (KCAT) to pilot the program, with Council electing for a temporary project at Winston Churchill Public School and on Cheryl Place.

Winston Churchill Public School, located on MacDonnell Street in downtown Kingston. File photo.

According to a staff report, “the School Street has operated each school day for the duration of the school year, making it one of the first full-year pilots of a School Street in Canada. The Play Street pilot occurred on Cheryl Place (in Kingston west end) bi-weekly throughout most of the school year.

“School Street and Play Street initiatives involve recurring, temporary road closures that reallocate space from motor vehicles to pedestrians to support active school travel and facilitate community building.” 

In the report, staff called on Council to approve such programs as an available option under the City’s temporary road closure application process. Staff also recommended that $50,000 be made available through funds designated for active transportation programs, so that KCAT may facilitate similar projects in the future. 

The program has two distinct elements relating both to schools and “play streets.” Where School Streets are concerned, road closures occur along school frontage at peak drop-off and pick-up times, allowing for safer access to the building. “Restricting traffic during these peak times has a number of benefits, including facilitating opportunities for community building, promoting active and independent mobility, improving air quality, and removing congestion around schools.”

Play Streets, meanwhile, are meant to provide open access to closed roadways, offering children a safe space to play freely in the streets. “Play Streets offer opportunities for improved community cohesion and increased levels of physical activity amongst children. Play Street temporary road closures are typically proposed to occur on low-volume roads and may reoccur on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, typically for a period of up to a few hours.” 

Roger Healy from KCAT spoke about the simplicity of the School Street initiatives: “They’re very simple in design. In the case of the School Street, it’s simply closing the street in front of a school when school children and parents are going to be there… It’s proven to be quite effective at reducing traffic and congestion and improving the safety of everyone involved.” 

Given the fact that the expansion of the program would be undertaken by KCAT, Portsmouth district Councillor Bridget Doherty questioned whether the organization has the “capacity” to take on this commitment. Healy replied “KCAT is a very small organization and we don’t have a large capacity… I just can’t predict that the same resource[s] would be available at other schools.”

However, Healy noted that his volunteers are committed to the cause. “Capacity maybe isn’t that great; however, we have a lot of passion and a lot of dedicated individuals… and that may prove to be the recipe for making [the program] more extensively used in Kingston.” 

Like the Community Safety Zones item, the extension of the School Street and Play Street program was passed unanimously by Council. 

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